Youth football

Tri Town coach back on sidelines after near-death experience

2013-11-18T22:00:00Z 2013-11-19T00:06:06Z Tri Town coach back on sidelines after near-death experienceJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

SCHERERVILLE | Josh Kazmierski doesn't like to talk about last May 19th.

The normally precocious 9-year-old becomes reticent whenever the subject is breached.

"He didn't speak much in the days after," Josh's mother Lisa Kazmierski said. "There were kids from his school who were at the park when it happened, so the next day they were asking him about it, but he was too traumatized to talk."

If you want to change Josh's mood, ask him about his Tri Town Raiders Mitey Mite Pop Warner football team, and he'll perk up like it's Christmas morning.

"It's going to be awesome," Josh said of his undefeated team going to the Pop Warner National Championship Dec. 7-14 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., while representing the Midwest in the Mitey Mite Bowl.

In his younger days, Josh was a running back with a nose for the end zone. Now he's a right guard on the offensive line — as well as a defensive end, punter and placekicker — which is all right with him.

"There's so much you've got to learn ... how to pull ... who to pick up when (the defenders) move around and rush the gaps," Josh said.

Josh's father, Brian Kazmierski, will be down on the field with him and the rest of the team as an assistant coach. Brian has helped coach the team for the past two seasons, and coached other Tri Town teams in years before.

He almost wasn't around for this season.

"I did some yard work, I took a two-mile walk, then I went to (Havenwood Park in Cedar Lake) to play catch with Josh," Brian said of an active day (May 19) that got more active when he decided to school Josh and some other youngsters in a pick-up basketball game.

"I went up for a layup and that's the last thing I remember," said Brian, who likely suffered an aneurysm in mid-flight and fractured his skull when his head hit the pavement.

"Thankfully, a nurse was driving by and saw that he wasn't moving or breathing," said Lisa, a registered nurse herself. "She began to perform CPR, and she was able to bring him back."

Shortly after Brian was transported to St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point, a CT showed his brain was bleeding in three places — one of which was a left frontal sub arachnoid-hemorrhage, an affliction with a 50-percent survival rate.

Lisa was told that Brian's chances were even more grim before he was helicoptered to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

"They had already read him his last rites," Lisa said.

After 10 days in a coma and several subsequent setbacks, Brian made a remarkable recovery and became able to coach again — though at a limited basis.

"I still can't lift anything. I still get dizzy at times and have to take a seat," Brian said, "but the team and everyone around it has been very supportive."

Brian cannot drive.

"You don't know how inconvenient that is until it's been taken away from you," said Brian, who, with Josh, often relys on transportation from other Tri Town coaches as Lisa usually is occupied taxiing their daughters, Rachel and Rebecca, who partake in extracurricular activities.

Brian still hasn't been cleared to return to his job at BP.

"I'm always asking my doctor, 'When can I go back?' and he says, 'Just worry about getting better'," said Brian, who is petitioning his employer to donate to the team's trip by way of BP's charitable "Fabric of America Fund."

"We're trying to make sure we can get every kid down," said Tri Town assistant coach Bill Henry, who is among those who helps Brian and Josh get to games and practices.

To help raise support, Henry and his son, Raiders player Ace Henry, were featured on "Cochran's Kid of the Week" hosted by WGN's Steve Cochran, who honors a special kid every week.

"But this time he honored the whole team," Henry said. "That's what we are, a team ... and a family."

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